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Tulips Helped Them Survive

During the final months of World War II in Europe, a Nazi blockade stopped all waterway food shipments into the major cities in the west of the Netherlands. The consequences were devastating, as many who lived through that period can testify.

A person normally needs about 1,600 to 2,800 calories a day. But by April 1945, some of those living in Amsterdam, Delft, The Hague, Leiden, Rotterdam, and Utrecht were subsisting on daily rations that amounted to between 500 and 600 calories a day. It is believed that as a result, during the Hunger Winter of 1944/45, at least 10,000 civilians died from malnutrition.

According to survivor Susan Monkman, her family resorted to eating tulip bulbs. “The tulip bulbs were unbelievably sharp-edged,” says Monkman. “No amount of simmering would soften them. Nevertheless we were happy to chew them slowly and carefully. They left us with sore throats for days.” To help reduce the irritation, a few carrots or a sugar beet, if available, would be mixed with the bulbs.

One four-ounce portion of tulip bulbs contains some 148 calories, 3 grams of protein, 0.2 grams of fat, and 32 grams of carbohydrate. Thus, the unpalatable diet of tulip bulbs may have helped save many Netherlanders from starvation.

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